One of the best preserved Meteor Craters in the world lies near Winslow, Arizona. Who would have thought? The story begins about half a billion years ago, when a collision in the asteroid belt sent a fragment of asteroid heading towards Earth. About 50,000 years ago, a large nickel-iron meteorite slammed into the Earth. Weighing at least several million tons and traveling at 43,000 miles per hour, it exploded with a force equivalent to 20 million tons of TNT! The impact annihilated all life within a 100 mile radius.
The crater is 600 feet deep, 4,000 feet in diameter, and has a lip of about 150 feet. However, the meteorite is only estimated to be about 150 feet in diameter. The tremendous amount of force created the vast crater and forced fragments of the meteorite 3,000 feet into the Earth’s crust. Over 175 million tons of limestone and sandstone were sent from the crater to cover the surrounding landscape.
Native Americans used the walls of the crater to live in. Franklin, a scout for General Custer is the first to have documented the crater. This was in 1871. For many years, it was called Franklin’s Hole but was renamed Coon Butte. For a long time, the crater was thought to be just another extinct volcano. But, in 1886, a sheepherder found a piece of the meteorite in the area. He thought it was silver and did not report his findings until 1891. It was now believed that the crater was formed by a large meteor. But, that same year G.K. Gilbert, the chief geologist of the USGS concluded that this was formed by some sort of volcanic activity.
In 1902, Daniel Moreau Barringer who was a mining engineer from Philadelphia showed an interest in the meteor. He explored the meteor and was convinced it was formed by a meteor which lay beneath the surface. He filed four placer mining claims around the meteor and formed the Standard Iron Company. In 1903, he began working in the crater and would do so for the next 26 years. However, he would never find anything. The first that they drilled produced a few fragments; however, the soft sandstone and water created a quicksand and prevented any more mining. With the drill bit stuck, drill cable broke, and funds exhausted, the workings in the crater were left in 1929. Barringer died less than a year later but was able to see his theory on the creation of the crater be accepted by science.
The crater has been continued to be studied by scientists and geologists and is considered the first discovered and best preserved meteor crater in the world. NASA used the crater to train astronauts for lunar landing because of the similarities of the crater and the moon. Meteor Crater can be reached by taking exit 233 off of I-40 for 6 miles. It is between Flagstaff (35 miles to the west) and Winslow (20 miles to the east).
A panoramic picture of Meteor Crater